On this day 70 years ago, the longest NBA game ever was played.
It took six overtimes and 78 minutes to separate the Indianapolis Olympians and Rochester Royals at Edgerton Arena in Rochester, New York, with the Olympians finally knocking off the home team, 75-73.
The game finished with a buzzerbeater to tip the scales in Indianapolis’s favor after the team held the Royals scoreless in the final extra period. Indianapolis Star reported one the game the next day.
“Ralph Beard sank a breakaway shot with one second left in the sixth overtime period last night to give the Indianapolis Olympians a 75-73 decision over the Rochester Royals in a record shattering National Basketball Association content before 3,790 fans,” the paper wrote.
Royals center Arnie Risen led all scorers with 26 points in the losing effort. Olympians center Alex Groza and guard Ralph Beard shared team-high scoring efforts, putting up 17 points each.
The Impact of the Longest NBA Game Ever
The 1950-51 NBA season turned out to be transformative for the league. It started with the Fort Wayne Pistons and Minneapolis Lakers playing in the lowest scoring game in NBA history before entertaining the longest NBA game ever a few months later. No shot clock played a large role in allowing these two contests unfold as they did, and it began to apply pressure on the NBA to do something about it.
“[For] more than 26 of the 30 overtime minutes, the ball stayed neatly tucked away under an arm of a Royal or Olympian player,” the Rochester Democrat reported at the time. “One or another player just stood there with the score tied, waiting out the clock for a last-second ‘nothing-to-lose’ shot. … Customers who complained were burned up at the unchallenged freeze. For the Olympians, it sure wasn’t good basketball, but it paid off.”
The game took so long, it caused the Indianapolis Olympians to miss their train to Chicago for their next game. So, the team went to Detroit, then took a flight to Molina, Illinois. But the plane couldn’t fit the whole team – only five players could make the trek through the air. Indianapolis sent its starting five via plane and organized a bus for the rest of the roster. But it didn’t arrive until after the team had finished its game with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, forcing the first, and only, time in NBA history that a team played with just five players.
The absurdity of this situation helped push the NBA to adopt the 24-second shot clock in 1954.
The 1950-51 NBA Season
The Indianapolis Olympians would finish the season 31-37 and earn the final spot in the 1951 NBA Playoffs before losing, 2-1, to the top-seeded Minneapolis Lakers in the Western Division Semifinals. The Royals went 41-27 in the regular season for the No. 2 seed in the Western Division. Rochester would defeat No. 3 seed Fort Wayne Pistons, 2-1, in the first round before dismantling the Lakers, 3-1, in the Western Division Finals. In the NBA Finals, the Royals and New York Knicks went to seven games, with Rochester taking the decisive Game 7 by just four points, 79-75, to win the first and only championship in team and franchise history (the Rochester Royals later moved multiple times before settling in Sacramento, California, as the Kings in 1985).